As is now an annual tradition my friend Joel and I headed to Busch Gardens Williamsburg on May 17 for the opening of the annual Food and Wine Festival. It runs through the end of June so if you see anything you like there is plenty of time to check it out. The weather was great and the park experienced the normal first day hiccups- the computers kept going down and some of the stations were struggling with recipes. It’s usually fine after the first day.
The New Booths
Do NOT miss Mexico. I wasn’t able to eat anything in Mexico as it all had meat so Joel was a good friend and stepped up for me. And he was still talking about the Fried Shrimp Tacos two hours later.
This is the Carne Asada Taco. Citrus and soy marinated beef with queso fresca, cilantro, and guacamole on a warm corn tortilla.
Joel: The guacamole was really the shining ingredient here. Sadly, the actual billed star of this dish, the steak, left a bit to be desired in the flavor department. I had expected some delicious smokey or charred flavors to offset the richness of the guacamole and cheese; however, in the chorus of flavors, the meat was really buried under the satisfying guacamole. If you love guac, then you’ll enjoy this taco. If you’re coming for the carne, you might be left a little wanting.
This is the Chorizo Empanada– one of the more unattractive dishes we saw all day. Spicy pork sausage pastry-pocket with cilantro-lime cream.
Joel: These adorable empanadas are a tasty treat, even if their presentation leaves a little to be desired. The cilantro-lime cream is definitely a winner, playing very well with the flaky crust and savory filling of the empanada itself.
And finally the Fried Shrimp Taco. Deep fried shrimp taco tossed in sweet chili sauce with pico de gallo and cilantro-lime slaw.
Joel: If you’re considering trying the fried shrimp taco, allow me to give you all my yesses in encouragement. I would have no qualms ordering up a few of these tacos and calling it a day. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up at BG for lunch before June 30th just to have more of these tacos! The shrimp is light and crispy, the pico was fresh, and the sauce provided just the right amount of heat to let you know you’re dealing with some flavorful spices without being anywhere near overpowering. Order these…please! It would be a travesty for them not to come back next year.
And now we travel to Jamaica. I want to be clear- Jamaica is a new booth this year but last year it was just called Carribean. The Gamba Fritters and Pineapple Rum Upside-Down Cake were both on the menu last year and the Jerk Chicken Slider was just Jerk Chicken. That does NOT mean however you should skip this booth.
Laura: The Pineapple Rum Upside Down Cake is a thing of beauty and every year I am scared they will get rid of it. It is just yummy. The sauce is incredible and the cake is moist. This was the first year we have tried the Ginger Limeade and I am a BIG FAN. Joel is not a big fan of sweet and I love it so we rarely find drinks we agree on. This one both of us liked. It’s refreshing but has a nice tang to it- I will be looking for Ginger Lemonade lots of places now!
Joel: The pineapple rum upside down cake is definitely a classic worth enjoying. The Ginger Limeade was both yummy and refreshing! You get the added benefit of this being a cool, crisp, drink that doubles as a palate cleanser, which is helpful as you’re wandering the park sampling dishes with varied flavors.
Herbal Infusion is a new drink station. Along with the Lavender Lemonade I got they have Watermelon Mojito, Mint Julep and Rosemary Lemon Moscato.
Laura: The Lavender Lemonade was YUMMY. It was hot outside and having a nice refreshing beverage was relaxing. It tastes pretty much exactly like you would expect it to. It was a nice full glass and I enjoyed it very much. I am sure the other drinks aren’t too bad either!
Joel: I definitely should have splurged for the mint julep. Maybe next time. The lavender lemonade was cool and refreshing, as all lemonades should be, with just the right hint of lavender.
Garden to Glass is a new station with Bloody Mary and Summer Wind cocktails. And the smoothie pictured below.
Laura: And now for the REALLY nasty. This is the Strawberry, Orange, Beet and Ginger Smoothie. BIG emphasis on beet. If you love the taste of beets this is THE drink for you. If you thought it was going to taste like fruit you would be horribly wrong. So unless you want to spend $4.25 on a beet drink just move along- or grab one of the alcoholic drinks. Or get the Lavender Lemonade.
Joel: As a potential gateway drug to healthy living (drinking?) this really fell flat.
The Philippines is another new booth added this year. We grabbed the Siopao, Chicken Adobo, Mamon and The Melon Juice.
It’s a pretty selection with lots of colors!
First up was the Siopoa (Steamed Pork Bun with sweet soy glaze). It’s a really cute dumpling looking thing! Since it had meat this one is all Joel.
Joel: While looking like a Chinese dumpling, this bun was more bread than noodle with a delicious savory pork filling. It paired well with the sweet soy glaze that was just the right balance between sweet and salty to keep you wanting more.
Next was the Chicken Adobo (chicken braised in a soy and vinegar marinade with sinangag garlic rice). I did try a bite of the rice and it was yummy.
Joel: I’m all for simple and yet well-prepped rice, and I give a lot of credit to BG folks for managing to do this well in the quantities they are serving. Actually, a lot of what BG does for the Food and Wine Festival is really extraordinary when you consider the logistics and challenges to prepping and serving many unique and challenging dishes. As for this dish, it’s simple with some very satisfying flavors. While the meat was a little dry for my tastes, eating it with the rice offset some of that dryness.
Laura: Then we tried the Mamon (Butter sponge cake topped with shredded cheese and raspberry sauce). I was already a little skeptical of any dessert that had cheese across the top of it. When I ate it that was confirmed. I felt like it would have had pretty much NO taste if it wasn’t covered in a raspberry drizzle. The cake was very plain and the cheese gave a weird texture. I don’t like coconut and it had the same feel.
Joel: With so many excellent desserts offered for the Food and Wine Festival, this is one that you can skip. I’m sad to say that while I’ve enjoyed a lot of dishes prepared by my friends from the Philippines, I don’t think I’ve had much in the way of desserts, so I can’t really speak to this being a good representation of a classic Filipino dessert or not, but it didn’t do much for me.
Laura: As soon as I tasted the Melon Juice I knew Joel would hate it. It was everything I want in a glass. Kind of thick, super sweet and it had fruit in it. Definitely a specific taste!
Joel: She was right. This was definitely not the drink for me, but I can see how people could enjoy it. If you love copious amounts of sweet melon, this drink is for you.
Being vegetarian this year was a huge hindrance- literally all but one of the new meals had meat in it- so I was happy some of the old ones stuck around. The Dolmades at the Mediterranean Booth is one of my favorites in the whole park- stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki sauce. They are YUMMY. We hit this booth as soon as we walked in the park.
In Italy we grabbed two dishes- the Creamy Mushroom Risotto and the Italian Cream Soda. Though the Italian booth isn’t labeled as new in the booklet we had not had either of these dishes before.
Laura: I did try the Creamy Mushroom Risotto (finished with truffle oil, basil pesto and a shaved, prosciutto ham) once we moved the ham over to Joel’s side of the dish. I was VERY rich and well made. Equally impressive is knowing how difficult it is to make a good risotto- this isn’t a dish they can make the night before and throw in the microwave the next day. The pots were out at the booth and they were babysitting it themselves. I highly recommend this one.
Joel: I should have reserved some of my earlier yesses used on the shrimp taco to review the risotto. I was very impressed with this dish, and as Laura said, it’s all the more impressive considering how risotto is not the easiest of dishes to make…but there they were, pots on burners, stirring up delicious batches for all to enjoy. The saltiness of the ham provides a nice balance to the rich creaminess of the risotto. I’m still not 100% sure we needed to have the pesto sauce, but it definitely added to the richness of the dish.
Laura: The Italian Cream Soda was refreshing and sweet (although I admit the whipped topping just went in the garbage as I didn’t feel it contributed much). But basically, sugar and fizzy water was a big hit with me!
Joel: Lightly sweet and refreshing. I’m not totally sold on the amount of whipped topping used, as we really didn’t mix it into the drink, and I’m not sure if the drink would have been as good had we done so. I can’t review the cherry, because Laura swiped it before I could give it a thought.
As soon as we were finished trying all the new foods I asked Joel what he wanted to eat next. The answer came out easily “Japan”. So as we have it every year we KNOW it’s good.
Mushi-Gyoza – Japanese-style steamed chicken dumplings with citrus ponzu sauce. Every year I tell you to get these dumplings. LISTEN TO ME. The ponzu sauce is magic.
This year I needed to grab this just to fill up on something besides drinks and dessert. The Lettuce Wrap (Vegetables and tofu wrapped in tender butter lettuce with toasted almonds and sweet chili dipping sauce) is always good and for those doing Keto it would be a hit!
Once we finished Japan for Joel we went over to the French Quarter for me. I think the Beignets are a thing of beauty and somehow we had never tried the Bananas Foster Cheesecake before (it’s been at the festival for many years.
I dream about these all year. The Beignets (fried doughnuts squares topped with powdered sugar and drizzled with caramel) are a favorite. It’s fried bread- it’s hard to ruin fried bread.
Laura: The Bananas Foster Cheesecake (Vanilla and pecan encrusted cheesecake with orange run caramel sauce and sliced banana) was incredibly underwhelming to me. The bananas were excellent but the rest was just kind of blah. And at the same booth where you can get Beignets, it’s an easy choice.
Joel: I’m definitely a bit picky when it comes to cheesecake, and this one was a bit too dense and lacking that classic cheesecake flavor I maybe unfairly expect. I didn’t hate it though, and if you get a bite that includes all the elements…sauce, banana, pecan, and cake…it’s very enjoyable. Admittedly I was getting pretty full at this point. I couldn’t even help Laura with the beignets.
And then we ended this year again as we did last year with the Brazilian Lemonade (frozen with sweetened condensed milk). We each grabbed one to head back to the car. It’s cool and tastes amazing.